The first details of an alleged massacre of between 60 and 75 Christians in the mountain village of Bire became available today as ambulances brought several dozen shocked survivors to the capital.
Although the villagers were too dazed to talk to reporters, Mayor Maroun Salim Khouri said Druze and other "foreigners"--including Palestinians and Syrians--entered the Christian Maronite village Tuesday and rounded up between 350 and 450 people at his house. The mayor was not in the village at the time of the killings, but he said he was relaying the accounts of survivors.
The older men were called out of the house and told there was a meeting inside the village church, he said.
"When the men arrived there, they were sent into the church one by one and had their throats slit with knives and bayonets," he said. "They went in one door alive and were thrown out dead by another."
He said 25 were killed inside the church in this manner and another 15 to 20 just outside it. He estimated that a total of 60 to 75 persons were killed throughout the village, "the majority of them 55 to 65 years of age but my uncle, Tewfik Daoud, was 80."
"I am 100 percent sure there was a massacre and I am 100 percent sure that none of the victims was a combatant," he added.
The Druze Progressive Socialist Party has heatedly denied that any massacre took place in Bire and said that "the few" who were killed were Christian Phalangist militamen "who were dominating the village and terrorizing the population."
Christians and Druze have been angrily accusing each other of committing numerous massacres in the week-old "mountain war" and these allegations have served to whip up fear on both sides.
No outsider has witnessed any of the six to eight alleged massacres now reported or seen any concrete evidence, like a pile of bodies, to confirm the reports. Western diplomatic sources say many of the reports are "exaggerated," although they do not deny that many civilians are dying.
The state of the Bire refugees arriving here today strongly suggested they had been through a real ordeal, whatever happened. Most were wide-eyed old men and women who appeared half crazed, some of them refusing even to accept water at a hospital in east Beirut because of fear that it might be poisoned.
One wizened woman vomited when the back door of the ambulance she was riding in opened at the civil defense headquarters, where they were first taken. None talked to reporters.
At a press conference here today, a Progressive Socialist Party spokesman, Ghazi Aridi, complained about the international coverage being given to alleged Druze massacres and mistreatment of Christian civilians. He said Christian atrocities against Druze and the plight of 7,000 Druze refugees in Beirut were hardly mentioned.
In addition, he charged that Christian Phalangist militiamen several days ago had killed all but 20 of 79 Druze civilian refugees being held in one of the militia camps at Michref, a few miles south of Beirut. The others, all girls, were being held hostage, he said. "We are convinced that they the Christians killed them and that they were not bombed at Michref," he said, referring to Phalangist claims that Druze artillery had hit the building where the refugees were staying.
Aridi also criticized the "orchestrated lamentations" by the Lebanese government and outside agencies like the international Red Cross about perhaps 40,000 Christian refugees bottled up in Deir Qamar in the mountains.
He said no massacre of the Christians there would take place and that Druze leader Walid Jumblatt had given assurances of "unconditional passage" to the Red Cross convoy that has been trying to reach Deir Qamar for four days.
The convoy, carrying food and supplies to sustain 30,000 people for three days, still has not gotten through despite the assurances.
Bire Mayor Khouri and a village lawyer, Edward Selwan, said their accounts came from friends and relatives who were kept inside the mayor's house but subsequently were allowed to leave the village. Neither was actually present in the village at the time of the alleged masacre.
The killings reportedly took place Tuesday night but even those being kept inside the mayor's house did not become aware of what had happened until early Friday morning, when 400 villagers were escorted by the Lebanese civil defense organization to Jazzin behind Israeli lines.
"When they took the villagers out of the village, they saw the bodies lying to the left and right of the road on empty ground," the mayor said.
Both the mayor and the lawyer seemd to feel Lebanese Druze were a small minority of those who had invaded the village and said help from several Druze militamen who were schoolmates of the mayor's three daughters had made it possible for the 400 villagers to escape Friday.
Khouri said these Druze militiamen had told his daughters that because there were "foreigners" among them "we cannot assure your security. You must leave."
He said the "foreigners" included Palestinians and Syrians but said, "everyone, Druze and foreigners together," participated in the killings.